Former FBI [official website] director James Comey testified on Thursday in front of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence [official website]. During more than two hours of testimony, Comey recounted [prepared remarks] nine encounters with President Donald Trump. Comey had documented each time he met with the president in private. While he did not make any new revelations about links between the Trump administration and Russia, he did tell the committee that he believed Trump had directed him to drop the probe into former security advisor Michael Flynn and, when he refused, the president lied about Comey’s subsequent dismissal and defamed the FBI. Comey said that he knew he was fired because the Russia investigation “was in some way putting pressure on” Trump. Comey recalled Trump telling him, “I need loyalty. I expect loyalty,” after Comey had explained to the President that he was not on anybody’s side politically and that the FBI was independent of the executive branch.
Trump’s personal lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, responded [statement, PDF] to Comey’s testimony by saying that Trump had been vindicated in that “the President was not under investigation as part of any probe into Russian interference.” He also rebutted Comey’s “loyalty” statement saying that Trump had never said those words but “the Office of the President is entitled to expect loyalty from those who are serving in an administration.” Kasowitz went on to raise alarm about Comey’s admitted leaking of privileged communications. Comey had stated that he leaked the content of the memos he kept as record of his private communications with Trump to prompt the appointment of special counsel. Robert Mueller was selected [JURIST report] as special counsel shortly after.
Comey began his testimony stating that he was “confused” and “concerned” about the wavering explanations offered by the White House after his dismissal [JURIST report] in May. In an official letter of termination, Trump said that Comey is “not able to effectively lead the Bureau” and that “It is essential that we find new leadership for the FBI that restores public trust and confidence in its vital law enforcement mission.” The letter was published in a press release [text, PDF] that included recommendations for Comey’s ouster from Attorney General Jeff Sessions [official website] and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. On Tuesday, Sean Spicer pointed to Rosenstein as the prime mover [WP report] of the decision to fire Comey. In a memorandum, Rosenstein criticized Comey’s decision to close the investigation into Secretary Clinton’s use of a private email server without prosecution, but he never specifically recommends firing Comey. White House deputy press secretary, Sarah Sanders, said on Wednesday that Trump did not ask [USNews report] for the recommendation but “The president had lost confidence in Director Comey, and frankly he’d been considering letting Director Comey go since the day he was elected.” Democratic Senator of California Dianne Feinstien [official website] is skeptical of the memo [NYT report], saying, “The memo appears to have been hastily assembled to justify a preordained outcome.” Republican Senator Richard Burr also expressed concerns with the timing [CNN report] of Comey’s firing. Last week, federal prosecutors issued grand jury subpoenas [CNN report] for the business records of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn who is being investigated for financial ties to Russia and Turkey. According to the CNN report, “The subpoenas represent the first sign of a significant escalation of activity in the FBI’s broader investigation begun last July into possible ties between Trump campaign associates and Russia.” The Senate Intelligence Committee has requested for Comey to testify as a private citizen in a closed hearing next week.